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Planet of the Apes: Monkey ‘business’

The journey of ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968), a science fiction film, began when producer, Arthur P Jacobs bought the rights to the 1963 French novel, ‘La Planète des Singes’ (‘Planet of the Apes’) by Pierre Boulle, before its publication. Jacobs pitched the production to many studios, but was passed over. It was only when Jacobs made a successful debut as a producer with ‘What a Way to Go!’ (1964) for 20th Century Fox, and began pre-production of another movie for the studio, ‘Doctor Dolittle’ (1967), that he managed to convince Fox vice president, Richard D Zanuck to approve of ‘Planet of the Apes’. Incidentally, even Boulle thought this was his worst novel.
When 20th Century Fox agreed to the film, co-writer of screenplay, Rod Serling spent over a year and thirty to forty drafts trying to translate the novel for the screen.
Interestingly, J Lee Thompson, who had earlier directed films like ‘The Guns of Navarone’ (1961) and ‘Cape Fear’ (1962) was going to direct ‘Planet of the Apes’, and co-owned the novel rights with Jacobs. However, he had to back out as he was directing ‘Mackenna’s Gold’ (1969). At some point, director of ‘Pink Panther’, Blake Edwards was considered for the job. Jacobs finally handpicked Franklin J Schaffner to direct, particularly after the recommendation of Charlton Heston, who had worked with Schaffner on ‘The War Lord’ (1965). Thompson however entered the ‘Apes…’ series in ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ (1972) and returned for ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ (1973).
When Schaffner came on board as director, one of his first acts was to reimagine the apes’ society. In the script he was given, the apes lived in a hi-tech world, but Schaffner wanted it to be more primitive, which also helped to significantly reduce costs of the film. He further deliberately used odd, skewed angles and hand-held cameras to create a disorientating effect, much like what Heston’s character experiences in the ‘Ape world’.
Heston was always Jacobs’ first choice for the part of George Taylor. However, Marlon Brando was considered as a back-up possibility.
Edward G Robinson was the original choice for the role of Dr Zaius, and actually filmed a test scene with Heston. However, Robinson suffered from a weak heart and didn’t think he could endure the day-to-day rigors of performing in the ape make-up. Eventually the role was played by Maurice Evans.
Actor, Jonathan Harris turned down the role of Dr Maximus, which was finally enacted by Woodrow Parfrey.
Ingrid Bergman regretted turning down the part of Zira, as it would have given her the opportunity to act without relying on her beauty. Julie Harris was then offered the role of Zira; while she liked the concept, she didn’t think she could work with the make-up and turned it down. In the end, the role went to Kim Hunter.
Producers considered Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch and Angelique Pettyjohn for the role of Nova, but they were either unavailable or uninterested. Linda Harrison, who finally played Nova, was having an affair with Zanuck at the time of production. In the year of this film’s release, Zanuck divorced his first wife and married Harrison.
Filming began on May 21, 1967, and ended on August 10, 1967. The early scenes in the movie where the spaceship crash-lands in the lake were filmed at Lake Powell, which is formed by a dam on the Colorado River on the Utah-Arizona border. The heat during the filming of the desert scenes for the film’s opening proved so intense that many cast and crew fainted, including Schaffner. Most scenes of the ape village – interiors and exteriors – were filmed on the 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch located near Malibu, in Calabasas. The remains of the Statue of Liberty were shot in a secluded cove on the far eastern end of Westward Beach, between Zuma Beach and Point Dume, Malibu.
Although it is widely believed that the make-up budget for ‘Planet of the Apes’ was $1 million, associate producer, Mort Abrahams later revealed that the make-up was “more like half-a-million… but a million dollars (figure) made better publicity”. The make-up team for the film in fact, consisted of over 80 make-up artists.
Allegedly, music composer, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to “better get in touch with the movie”. He also used a ram’s horn in the process. The result was the first completely atonal score in a Hollywood movie. Some of the discordant musical sounds were also created by using stainless steel kitchen mixing bowls. The score of the film is known for its avant-garde compositional techniques, as well as the use of unusual percussion instruments and extended performance techniques. Goldsmith’s 12-note music – the violin part using all 12 chromatic notes – gives an eerie, unsettled feel to the planet, mirroring the sense of ‘placelessness’.
‘Planet of the Apes’ was well received by critics and is widely regarded as a classic film. It is one of the best films of 1968, applauded for its imagination and its commentary on a possible world gone upside down. Produced at a budget of $5.8 million, it made $33.4 million at the Box Office in North America.
‘Planet of the Apes’ was followed by four sequels namely ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ (1970), ‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ (1971), ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ (1972) and ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ (1973).
‘Planet of the Apes’ was remade in 2001, directed by Tim Burton, followed by its sequels, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ (2011), ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ (2014) and ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ (2017), scheduled to be released on July 14, 2017.

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